140 B- POLEVOI
keeping his eyes glued to the magazine he groped for
a pencil on his bedside cupboard and with deliberate
strokes traced a square around the article.
"Have you read it?" inquired the Commissar with a sly
look in his eyes. Alexei remained silent, his eyes still
scanning the lines of the article. "Well, what do you
"But he only lost a foot."
"But you are a Soviet airman."
"He flew a Tarman'. It wasn't much of a plane. A
whatnot, rather. It was simple to fly. No technique or
speed was needed."
"But you are a Soviet airman!" the Commissar
"A Soviet airman," Alexei repeated mechanically, still
staring at the article. Then his face lit up with some sort
of an inner light and he looked at each of his fellow-
patients in turn with eyes filled with joy and wonder.
That night Alexei put the magazine under his pillow
and remembered that in childhood, when he climbed into
the bunk he shared with his brothers, he used to hide in
much the same way an ugly little Teddy bear his mother
had made for him out of an old plush jacket. He laughed
loudly at this recollection.
He did not sleep a wink that night. The ward was
wrapped in heavy slumber. Gvozdev tossed about on his
bed, causing the mattress springs to twang. Stepan
Ivanovich snored with a whistle as if his insides were
bursting to get out. Now and again the Commissar turned
over, uttering a low groan through clenched teeth. But
Alexei heard nothing. Every once in a while he pulled
the magazine out from under his pillow and by the light
of the night-lamp gazed at the smiling face of the lieu-
tenant. "You had a hard job, but you pulled it off," he
mused. "Mine is ten times harder, but 111 pull it off too,
In the middle of the night, the Commissar suddenly lay
quite still. Alexei raised himself on his elbow and saw
him lying pale and calm, seeming not to breathe. He
seized the bell and rang furiously. Klavdia Mikhailovna
ran into the ward, bare-headed, with sleepy eyes and her
plait hanging down her back, A few moments later the